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Thousands in Venezuela are being forced out of the world's tallest slum

Published: Sunday, Aug. 3 2014 3:01 p.m. MDT

A resident waits for transportation to a new home after being evicted from the world’s tallest slum, the Tower of David, a half-built skyscraper that was abandoned in the 1990s and was transformed by squatters into a vertical ghetto, in Caracas, Venezuela, Tuesday, July 22, 2014. Officials and armed soldiers began moving out the first of thousands of squatters who have lived for nearly a decade in a soaring, half-built skyscraper in the heart of Caracas.

Fernando Llano, ASSOCIATED PRESS

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For seven years, thousands of families have occupied the "Tower of David," a half-finished skyscraper in Caracas, Venezuela. The vertical slum, named after the skyscraper's developer, David Brillembourg, was the 52-story home to roughly 1,150 of Caracas' poor, and is now being emptied out by Venezuelan government.

The slum tower was being constructed in 1994, "intended as a bank headquarters in the center of the capital" when Brillembourg died and also, the country went through financial crisis, Quartz reports. That's when families started seeking refuge in the building with the encouragement of the late Hugo Chavez, then-president of the country.

The "makeshift city" is filled with refugees from shantytowns around the city and the building has no elevators, and in some places, no facade: "The squatters organized their own electricity, running water, and plumbing, along with bodegas, a barbershop, and an orthodontist," Quartz reporter Michael Silverberg writes.

The Venezuelan government "peacefully" evicted the squatters last week, Reuters reported. The residents were relocated to homes in small towns several hours outside of Caracas in public housing: "The tower does not meet the minimum conditions for safe, dignified living," a government official told reporters last week.

"Residents, though, said the building became a refuge from the city's crime-ridden 'barrios' and had turned into something of a model commune," Reuters reporter Andrew Cawthorne writes. "Inside there was evidence of hyper-organization everywhere: corridors were polished daily; squatters who had first arrived in tents then partitioned spaces into well-kept apartments; work schedules, rules and admonitions plastered the walls."

Andreína Contreras, a 26-year-old mother of two, has lived in the Tower of David for six years, according to Vice News.

"In the beginning everything was awful, I had to sleep in a tent for three months," Contreras told Vice. "The sewage reached up to my knees in some places. Little by little, I made my space and the conditions improved."

Now, being relocated, Contreras is worried conditions in her new neighborhood will not be an improvement. She worries her children will not have a school to attend, Vice reporter Alicia Hernández writes.

amcdonald@deseretnews.com

Twitter | @amymcdonald89

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